July 14, 2013

Big Government Program or Nimble Commercial Operation? (Source: SPACErePORT)
Since Florida established the nation's first spaceport authority in 1989, there has been tension between two conflicting goals for building the state's space transportation industry. Should the state fight to protect big, high-employment government-led programs (like NASA's Space Shuttle and the Air Force's Eastern Range), or encourage a transition to leaner, more competitive commercial space capabilities? This may seem like a false choice because in many ways these two types of programs can coexist. But in other key ways they have not.

As government-run capabilities grow in cost and complexity, they crowd out lower-cost non-government alternatives. Ultimately, however, the big government programs tend to collapse under their own weight, as taxpayer costs rise and inefficiencies become obvious. Companies like SpaceX become agents of change that cannot be ignored, and government-wide cost cutting (via sequester and other drawdowns) make some kind of transition inevitable.

That's what is happening at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. NASA is doing its best to unload its unneeded KSC facilities, and now the Air Force has similar interests at CCAFS. The Air Force for decades has neglected its launch range investment needs in favor of spending on more pressing wartime priorities. But as the wartime spending decreases, there's little hope that funding will be increased for CCAFS and Eastern Range operations and upgrades. Perhaps the spaceport authority concept's time has come. (7/14)

Another (Airport) Precedent for a Spaceport Authority at the Cape (Source: SPACErePORT)
Some folks have suggested the Air Force might have problems with handing over infrastructure of strategic national importance to a state-level spaceport authority. They might consider the example set in 1987 when two federally owned non-military airports were leased, by an act of Congress, to an airport authority established jointly by Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Title VI of Public Law 99-500 transitioned federally-owned Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport to the control of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, allowing for a more efficient and responsive management approach for the facilities. (7/14)

Detecting DNA in Space (Source: MIT News)
If there is life on Mars, it’s not too farfetched to believe that such Martian species may share genetic roots with life on Earth. MIT researchers are building a DNA sequencer that may one day be sent to Mars, where it can analyze soil and ice samples for traces of DNA and other genetic material. They exposed the heart of their tool — a DNA-sequencing microchip — to radiation doses similar to those that might be expected in an expedition to Mars. After exposure to such radiation the microchip analyzed a test strain of E. coli, successfully identifying its genetic sequence. (7/9)

Tibetan Observatory to be Best in Asia: IAU President (Source: Xinhua)
An observatory that is under construction in Tibet is expected to become the best astronomical observatory in Asia after its completion, International Astronomical Union (IAU) President Norio Kaifu said. The observatory, based in Tibet's Ngari prefecture, is located in an ideal place for astronomical monitoring due to its high altitude, transparent atmosphere and mild weather. The Ngari observatory, perched at an altitude of 5,100 meters above sea level, can compete with Hawaii's Mauna Kea Observatories, the world's largest observatory for optical, infrared and submillimeter astronomy. (7/13)

NASA Confirms Russian Lunar Rover Wins Marathon in Photo Finish (Source: Voice of Russia)
New images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera and NASA have confirmed that Lunokhod 2 sent by the Soviet Union in 1973 holds the record for most ground covered by an unmanned vehicle. The module spent five months in 1973 collecting data and beaming it down to Earth.

For many years, it was believed that it had only traversed 23 miles on the lunar satelite's rocky surface, but new data substantiated previous Russian estimates of 26 miles. Its closest competitor is a solar-powered Mars rover called Opportunity sent by the U.S. in 2003. That unit is still active but has only covered in its nine years of exploration approximately 22 total miles. So, for the time being Lunokhod 2's 40-year-old record stands not only on the Moon, but throughout the Solar System. (7/13)

United States' Imperial March: Wants 'National Park' on Moon (Source: India Today)
Emphasising that the Apollo lunar programme was one of the greatest achievements in the US history, the bill notes that, as commercial enterprises and foreign nations acquire the ability to land on the Moon, "it is necessary to protect the Apollo lunar landing sites for posterity." The bill, in part, calls for no later than one year after the date of enactment of the act, "there shall be established as a unit of the National Park System the Apollo Lunar Landing Sites National Historical Park."

In the bill, "Apollo lunar landing sites" refer to all areas of the Moon where astronauts and instruments connected to the Apollo program between 1969 and 1972 touched the lunar surface, the report said. The bill also spotlights the artifacts on the surface of the Moon associated with the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, "which had an instrumentality crash land on the lunar surface April 14, 1970," it states. (7/13)

Spaceport America: Countdown to [Grasshopper] Launch (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
It’s a bit hazardous these days to traverse the seven miles of dirt and gravel roads that lead from Spaceport America’s main horizontal runway to the vertical launch pad area. A steady flow of trucks kicks up clouds as they haul dirt and other materials to the site where the Spaceport Authority is building a large launch pad for SpaceX, to conduct test flights on a new, reusable rocket it is developing.

“We’re expanding the vertical launch pad area and adding capabilities,” said Spaceport Executive Director Christine Anderson. “We’ve set up some new trailers with amenities like air conditioning and WiFi that can be leased by customers, and we just put in mobile communications capability at the site.” The vertical launch area, where UP Aerospace shot its latest rocket into space last month, is bustling with activity as SpaceX prepares to move in and as UP plans for its next suborbital flight, scheduled for October. (7/14)

Experts Weigh In on NASA Asteroid Retrieval Mission (Source: Space Policy Online)
Ball Aerospace held the second “Target NEO” workshop on the technical challenges and opportunities of exploring Near Earth Objects (NEOs), especially asteroids and NASA’s new Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM). The workshop was a follow-up to the February 2011 Target NEO workshop sponsored by the George Washington University Space Policy Institute and Ball Aerospace. 

That workshop was in response to President Obama’s 2010 call to send humans to an asteroid by 2025. The agenda for that workshop centered around gathering information to achieve that goal. Tuesday’s “Target NEO 2” workshop focused on the Obama Administration’s latest iteration of that goal—deploying a robotic probe to capture an asteroid, redirecting it into lunar orbit, and sending astronauts there to study and possibly extract a sample of it. Click here. (7/13)

New Program to Pour £40 Million into Improving UK Aerospace Sector (Source: Parabolic Arc)
Speaking at the 2013 Paris Air Show, UK Business Minister Michael Fallon officially launched the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP). Based on the MAA’s 2006-2012 ATEP and an integral part of the UK Aerospace Growth Partnership’s industrial strategy, the £40m [$59.8 million] NATEP will fund 100 new technology projects in the supply chain between 2013 and 2017. (7/14)

When Space Weather Attacks! (Source: Washington Post)
On a cool September night in 1859, campers out in Colorado were roused from sleep by a “light so bright that one could easily read common print,” as one newspaper described it. Some of them, confused, got up and began making breakfast. Farther east, thousands of New Yorkers ran out onto their sidewalks to watch the sky glow, ribboned in yellow, white and crimson. Few people had ever seen an aurora that far south — and this one lit up the whole city.

At the time, it was a dazzling display of nature. Yet if the same thing happened today, it would be an utter catastrophe. The auroras of 1859, known as the “Carrington Event,” came after the sun unleashed a large coronal mass ejection, a burst of charged plasma aimed directly at the Earth. Telegraphs in Philadelphia were spitting out “fantastical and unreadable messages,” one paper reported, with some systems unusable for hours.

Today, electric utilities and the insurance industry are grappling with a scary possibility. A solar storm on the scale of that in 1859 would wreak havoc on power grids, pipelines and satellites. In the worst case, it could leave 20 million to 40 million people in the Northeast without power — possibly for years — as utilities struggled to replace thousands of fried transformers stretching from Washington to Boston. Chaos and riots might ensue. (7/13)

Military Studies Ways to Privatize Cape Canaveral AFS, Eastern Range (Source: Florida Today)
Meetings this week will explore a major change to that historic role, studying the possibility of privatizing some or all operations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Eastern Range, “the nation’s premier gateway to space.” Under a preliminary concept to be discussed in a public forum this week in Colorado Springs, responsibilities now handled by the 45th Space Wing would be turned over to a spaceport operator approved by the FAA.

“The Air Force wants to understand issues associated with transitioning current government range operations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to a commercial spaceport,” reads an invitation sent to local officials. If the concept were adopted — a process likely to take years — it’s not yet clear if it could dramatically reshape Cape launch operations or simply provide existing services more efficiently.

Several experts said budget pressures and increasing commercialization of launch activity are driving the Department of Defense to consider the concept seriously, though ideas have been discussed for years. Military space has been very expensive and they’ve got to cut costs,” said Charles Vick at GlobalSecurity.org. “It would allow the Air Force to concentrate less money on running a range and concentrate on the payloads, launch vehicles and propulsion systems. (7/14)

The Air Force's Past History with Aviation Authorities (Source: SPACErePORT)
Many Air Force bases over the years have transitioned into public airports (Orlando Intl.) and several operational bases are currently hosting commercial airports (Eglin AFB). As the Air Force considers options for Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, they should look at Eglin's hosting of Northwest Florida Regional Airport (VPS), which is enabled under an agreement with a municipal airport authority.

Despite its successful history with dual-use airport agreements, the Air Force started from scratch in the 1980s and 1990s when deciding how to accommodate commercial spaceport activities. They established an overly complex and cumbersome system of licenses and leases to allow individual companies access to launch pads and support facilities, rather than empowering a spaceport authority (Spaceport Florida Authority was established in 1989) to serve its intended purpose.

At Eglin, an airport authority worries the details of infrastructure requirements for tenant airlines, with an incentive to maximize access to that infrastructure for the public good. The Air Force has little incentive for accommodating additional users at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and its current management approach actually makes the Cape less attractive to potential users. (7/14)

North Korea Tested Rocket Engine (Source: Space Daily)
North Korea tested a rocket engine earlier this year in a potential bid to further develop its missile capability, a US think-tank said Thursday after reviewing new satellite images. Images of the Tongchang-ri rocket base in the country's northwest indicated the North conducted at least "one or more rocket engine tests" in late March or early April, the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said. The site -- also known as Sohae Satellite launch station -- was the base for the communist state's successful rocket launch last December, after a failed attempt in April of the same year. (7/11)

Tests Advance U.S. Program for New GPS Satellites (Source: Space Daily)
Tests for the next generation of Global Positioning System satellites produced positive results, making way for further work to begin on a U.S. Air Force GPS program seen as crucial to military, commercial and civilian uses in the coming decades. Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, which announced the successful tests of its GPS III Non-Flight Satellite Testbed, said the tests involved high-fidelity pathfinding events. (7/11)

Missile Plan to Go Ahead Despite Test Failure (Source: Space Daily)
The US military will go ahead with the deployment of a missile defense system in Alaska despite the recent test failure of an interceptor missile, officials said. Pentagon spokesman George Little said the unsuccessful test on Friday of a Ground Based Interceptor (GBI) was no reason to scrap deployment of the weapons in Alaska. "The test on Friday was not a success and it's being reviewed to see what went wrong," Little said. (7/9)

Most Reliable Rockets Are The Oldest Ones (Source: Space Daily)
Russia's Proton is not the most reliable launch vehicle, but it is still around 88-89% reliable, which is not too bad. The really good rockets, like the Russian Soyuz, probably get into 92-93%. So, all rockets fail. This one is not quite the best but it is not a disaster. Everybody's launch vehicles fail and this is known within the industry. Proton is beginning to slip a little bit and may have to pay attention to quality control. And the real issue is - can you persuade the insurers to insure satellites on your launch vehicle. And overall, when you look at the totality of Russian launch systems - there is nothing there that would worry you. (7/9)

Scientist Says Earth May Once Have Been Orbited by Two Moons (Source: Space Daily)
The Earth may once have had two moons, one of them a smaller twin that collided with the moon we see orbiting our planet today, a U.S lunar scientist says. Erik Asphaug of the University of California said he believes the landscape of our moon contains evidence of the smaller moon from when the pair collided, The Daily Telegraph reported.

"The second moon would have lasted for only a few million years; then it would have collided with the moon to leave the one large body we see today," he told the British newspaper. The smaller "twin" would have have been about one-thirtieth the size of our moon, he said. "It would have orbited Earth at the same speed and distance and just got slowly sucked in until they hit and then coalesced," he said. Most scientists have supported the theory the moon was once part of the Earth that was thrown off after a collision with another body. (7/8)

No comments: